By Jerry Lee Lewis (as told to Jeff Katz)
Let me tell you, I remember that day like it was just yesterday. Boy, you don’t forget a day that changed your life, I can tell you.
We were at Sun Studios. Man, I loved that little place. It had such a good feeling, a real special feeling. That’s why those Sun records still sound different today. Let’s see, James Van Eaton was there on drums. J. W. wasn’t there yet.
We were goofing off a little, then I got something into my head. I started pounding out a boogie woogie beat on the piano and began a little ditty I’d just thought up.
I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown
She has got the cutest ass in town
When I see her, I’ll pull her panties down.
Yeah I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown.
Van Eaton laughed and got up from behind his drum kit. He perched himself against the acoustic-tiled wall, put his right foot on the piano bench and leaned forward a bit.
“Oh Killer, you are too much.” Jimmy was having a ball, thumping out a beat on his knee. I was too much back then, a real tornado. It was a funny little tune, and I was getting into it myself.
Up in the booth, I saw Sam Phillips shaking his head. He didn’t like it when I got a little rude, but I’m pretty sure I saw him smiling. I saw him bend down to the microphone near the console. Then I heard his voice.
“Now, Jerry,” he said, scolding me like an old schoolmarm. “That’s not very nice.”
“Just havin’ a little a little fun, Mr. Phillips.”
I got a girl, her name is Myra Brown
She’s the greatest piece of tail around
I was wailing now. Almost knocked Van Eaton over when I stood up and sent the piano bench sailing. My hair was flying. No greasy kid stuff could hold it down now. I felt it as it shot up and down atop my head like a piston, some of it falling like snakes before my eyes. I tossed it back and noticed that Jimmy was shifting his eyes to the side, signaling to me without words that I’d better take a look around. I didn’t take the hint.
Yeah, I got a girl –
Except for me, it got real quiet. I didn’t hear the front door open and shut, didn’t hear the “How are you today Marion?” greeting out in the reception area. I didn’t know that J.W. was standing at the front of the studio, listening to every word I sang.
“Uh, I’m going next door to Taylor’s,” spluttered Van Eaton. “Anyone want a cup of coffee?” You could hear a pin drop.
Now, let me tell you a little about J.W. J. W. was a second cousin of mine, and played a solid-body bass guitar in my band. He was good kin. He and his wife Lois let me and mine move into their house. Jane and I were having lots of trouble back then. She was a hellcat! Always sneaking out to see other fellas. And with a baby at home too! What kind of a woman does that?
The Browns were very kind to us. And their 13-year-old daughter babysat Jerry Lee Jr. Yup, that’s Myra Brown. That’s the girl I was singing about.
“Jerry Lee Lewis, why the hell are you singing about my little girl that way?” Oh, he was spitting fire!
You see, Myra had had a big crush on me then, ever since we moved in. I was mighty fine then too. Crazy blonde hair, cool clothes, fancy shoes. Who could blame her, right?
Yeah, she was 13 all right, but she was all woman, responsible, kind. I wanted her too. Just the thought of her drove me wild.
“J.W., how’re you doin’?’ He wasn’t in the mood for any Sunday pleasantries.
“Did you not hear me, Jerry Lee? Why are you disrespecting my daughter that way?”
“Cousin, I guess it’s time for me to come clean with you. You see, Myra and I have a little thing goin’ on. I love her J.W. I look at her, I smell her, I mean, I just go wild, man, just wild!”
J. W. started to move closer to me. “You serpent! You snake in the grass! We took you in, took in your whole damn family, and this is how you repay us for our kindness. I’m gonna skin you alive, Jerry Lee Lewis!” I admit I was getting scared the closer he got to the piano. I hadn’t moved.
Lucky for me, Lois walked in.
“J.W., why are you yelling at Jerry Lee?” she asked, confused.
J.W. turned to face his wife.
“This man,” he pointed to me. “This man is in love with our daughter. She drives him wild, he says. Our baby girl, his cousin. That’s who he wants to be with.”
Lois screamed bloody murder. “Lord help me!”
“He was singin’ a smutty song about our Myra, singin’ about pulling her panties down, can you imagine?”
“Jerry Lee Lewis, you are the devil himself, playing the Devil’s music!” yelled Lois. Then, just like that, she fainted. Fell right to the floor like a tree struck by lightning J. W. rushed to her side. I was glad to see him move away from me, sure enough.
J.W. kneeled beside his wife and looked up at me.
“Is this why Myra dropped out of the eighth grade?” J.W. asked, quieting down some. Not much, some. I nodded my head. “Yes sir, that’s why. We’ve been talking some about getting married.”
“Married, she’s a child!”
“Not to me she isn’t. Myra even said to me a person could get married at 10 years old if they could find the right husband. And she found me all right.”
Mr. Phillips had been listening the whole time. He finally descended from the booth and calmly walked to the center of the room, moving a microphone aside as he passed. He was right between me and J.W. when he spoke, first to me.
“Jerry Lee. You listen to me. This is not acceptable. Not one bit.”
I was about to interrupt, but the look on his face, a dark scowl under arched eyebrows, made me bite my tongue.
“I can’t believe I have to explain why it’s wrong to marry a 13-year-old girl when you’re how old, 22, but to do this to J.W. and Lois, who brought you in to their home and treated you with love and respect, is an abomination.”
I’ll say this about Sam Phillips, when he spoke, he spoke with authority. He could be a little scary too. I bowed my head and said, nothing, thinking over his words.
He turned to J.W. “J.W. I know this is a shock to you, but we’re all family here. Jerry Lee will no longer see Myra, not in that way, and we can all go back to what we do best, making music. We have records to make, records to sell, careers to look out for.”
J. W. nodded his head and looked back at Lois, still out cold.
“Now you two shake hands on this and let’s get back to work.” Mr. Phillips didn’t wait to see what we’d do. He walked back up to his seat in front of the console.
I walked over to J.W. and put out my right hand.
“I’m sorry, boy, really. I was out of my head for a while. It won’t happen again.”
So, what would’ve happened to me if I had married Myra, a 13-year-old girl, a cousin? Well, sir, I can’t really say. All I know is it feels like I missed one big ol’ disaster. Thanks, Mr. Phillips. You saved my hide.
After filing for divorce from his second wife Jane in September, Jerry Lee Lewis continued to live at his cousin and bassist J.W. Brown’s home on East Shore Drive in Memphis, spending all his time with the Brown’s daughter Myra Gale. Jerry Lee and 13-year-old Myra married on December 12, 1957, lying to her parents they were going to see Lewis in the new movie Jamboree. Problem was, Jerry and Jane’s divorce would not become final until May 1958.
That same month, The Browns accompanied Lewis on a tour of England. Despite Sam Phillips’ wishes, Jerry Lee announced to the British press that he and Myra were married. The tour collapsed as crowds were hostile to Lewis and his child bride scandal. The news so offended English sensibilities that questions were raised in Parliament. To make their situation legal, Jerry and Myra were remarried in June. Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was never the same afterwards, though he forged a comeback as a country music star in the 1960’s.